Friday, April 16, 2010

Reflection on These Seven Weeks

Some of my core reflections:
  1. Sometimes I act like a teenager: I instant message my husband throughout the day to stay connected.
  2. Sometimes I act twice my age: I still like my phone to be a device for voice communication.
  3. I still have a greater affinity for the Cuban Perspective than the Pea perspective when it comes to technology.
  4. I am more open to the value of virtual worlds and the possibilities of collaborative technology than I was before this course.
  5. There are so many exciting possibilities for learning and creating available at hand.
  6. I probably will never be an early adopter, but I also won't often be the last to experiment either.
  7. The educational (not just digital) divides in the US and around the world require commitment, sensitivity, creativity, and tenacity to address; they also require practicality, time and properly allocated resources.

Cuban, L. (1998). The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom, Pea and Cuban Debate Bay Area School Reform Collaborative Funders' Learning Community Meeting, Palo Alto, CA February 5, 1998; Retrieved May 13, 2009 from TappedIn
Web site:

Pea, R. (1998). The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom, Pea and Cuban Debate
Bay Area School Reform Collaborative Funders' Learning Community Meeting, Palo Alto, CA February 5, 1998; Retrieved May 13, 2009 from TappedIn
Web site:


Honoring the advice WD gave me, while looking at how projects to diminish the "digital divide" are being implemented throughout the world, I decided to follow a series of links on the World Bank site. This chase led me to the BOSCO project.

Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach (BOSCO) relief project is bringing solar battery powered wifi router systems into Northern Uganda to help those in the displacement camps connect and converse as a means of sharing their experience of the war and life in the camps in their own words and "allowing them to articulate their own needs and find solutions to local community development problems." (BOSCO Uganda Relief Project Home Page).

In referencing this project, Siena Anstis noted in her blog that there was a need to find a way to connect the people to the resource of the internet. She suggested showing the farmers how to access information about pests (2010), and called for other for suggestions on how to make the technology relevant to the lives of those living in Northern Uganda.

This reinforced for me the need to assess and understand the cultural component of technology integration, as we read about in prior weeks, when developing project plans. It also provided me another example to ease my concern that "gadgetry" may not be the answer for those who have so many issues of existence to contend with every day.

Anstis, S. (2010, March 23). Beyond Innovative Technology: Teaching Internet. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from You Think! But Did You Know?:

BOSCO Uganda. (n.d.). BOSCO Uganda - Home. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from BOSCO Uganda Relief Project:

Digital Recess - It is time to Play

1. I recently read a news clip about how "free play" time for children is increasingly limited, and that new research suggests this may have a negative long-term impact. (I wasn't able to find that particular article again, but this article speaks to similar issues, and this one is interesting as a global look at play.)

2. This week, I was also exposed to this video: "Sugata Mitra: Can kids teach themselves?" , which I must say had an immediate impact on my view of educational technology.

Some time during the night, my brain added 1+2 and the result is ...
3. Recess

It isn't a novel idea, but it is one that has lost favor in recent times. Let's give children time to play throughout the day. Let's have regular breaks for physical free play outside in the sun, and lets add regular breaks in the computer lab or classroom (wherever the resources are housed) for technology free play.

If children can self-direct activities with computers (and other digital devices) and collaboratively figure out new learning, why not let them? Everyone (students and teachers) can take a deep breath and have time to play with the technology without the pressure of a grade. The children would learn social negotiation, 21st-century literacy skills, and even language skills at a minimum. They will also have fun and have a chance to laugh while doing it.

Boston College. (2009, April 15). 'Free play' for children, teens is vital to social development. Retrieved April 16, 2010, from Science Centric:

Strong National Museum of Play. (2009, February 02). News Release: Decline of Free Play in Childhood Noted in Sixteen Nations. Retrieved April 16, 2010, from Strong National Museum of Play:

TEDTalks. (2008, August 27). Sugata Mitra: Can kids teach themselves? Retrieved April 16, 2010, from You Tube:

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2010). Partnership for 21st Century Skills - Home. Retrieved April 16, 2010, from Partnership for 21st Century Skills:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tomorrow's Workforce

Politicians talk about "tomorrow's workforce" as if children were the same kind of raw natural resource as uncut timber forests or untapped oil reserves. It is discomforting to find human beings with hearts, minds, and souls reduced to an economic imperative. At a basic level, it is true, and I understand, sometimes even vocalize, the cliché that our children are our future. Nonetheless, I cringe when either side of the aisle uses the analogy at its base.

Yet how do “we the people” look beyond the economy of the future and look at our children as people and posterity? Sometimes it seems that without the foretold economic imperative there is no leverage for pulling our elected leadership into making ethical decisions about the education of our children.

It is ethical to make efforts to seek the best interest of our children since they can’t seek it for themselves. This includes providing our children with educational opportunities, and understanding that physical access to technology, cultural perceptions about use of technology, and historical patterns of both access and use will have a long-term impact on them far beyond the rhetoric.

Rhetoric about free educations and investment in teachers is almost like the promise of “forty acres and a mule” given to former slaves during the Reconstruction period. It sounds wonderful and humanitarian, but it ends up being a charlatan’s cruel game of power and politics.

What is really needed is not fine speeches from either side of the aisle on the national level, but instead more support for creative problem solving at the local level where the infrastructural needs can be assessed and correlated; the cultural context can be examined and integrated into the process; and the historical patterns (both national and local) can be taken into account.

Davis, T., Fuller, M., Jackson, S., Pittman, J., & Sweet, J. (2007). A National Consideration of Digital Equity. Washington, D.C.: International Society for Technology in Education. Available at:

Taborn, Tyrone D. “Separating Race from Technology: Finding Tomorrow’s IT Progress in the Past." Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. Edited by Anna Everett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 39–60. Available at:

Nostalgia and Anticipation

I occasionally look back nostalgically on the days of my youth when I actually had to go to the library to seek information. I mourned the passing of the card catalogue for a little while. I freely admit to liking the smell and feel of old paper. I also enjoy the reverence of the library – a public place set aside to speak in hushed tones and decode number systems in search of information. That time has passed.

Many of us don’t have to go to the information anymore. We bring the information to ourselves and fine tune our needs even before we consider going to the library. My own trips to the library are now fewer and farther between.

For others the library still fills the gap between what one person can afford to “own” and what a community can afford to “own”. The valued and expensive commodity that public libraries provided was once print materials. Now the commodity is access to digital materials. Consequently, the library has shifted its role; libraries now serve as redefined centers for precious information. They serve as links to the resources of the internet, as much as they serve as repositories for print.

My friend who (until recently – three cheers for her new job as a library director) was a teen/youth librarian at a public library in Georgia spent vast amounts of time reaching out to her patrons by visiting schools, connecting to her patrons in the library, and launching intense summer reading programs. Unlike the old stereotype of the reserved, unsocial librarian behind a desk, my friend was and is an emissary to her community to ensure her patrons understanding of the continued relevance of public libraries and the value they provide for the general population.

That is a a shift that makes me smile with anticipation for the hope of better things in the future.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


These last several months have shaken my already tenuous confidence in “technology” as an answer to human problems.

  • The earthquakes that have circled the globe leaving people without basic resources for days, weeks, months
  • The war, drought and succeeding famine that continue to leave people, especially children, at major risk of early mortality
  • The governmental practices that leave segments of populations outside of educational infrastructure based on gender, ethnicity, ect

I’m trying to grasp the rightful place of technology and its promise. As long as some basic “infrastructure” is in place, mobile devices give people in these situations contact and perhaps context, but do they really solve any problems? Can they augment education?

  • How is a cell phone of great help to a Sudanese child that can’t think clearly due to lack of food.
  • How is a mobile device an educational tool to a Haitian child that still has nightmares about the walls falling in around him?
  • How can M-learning reach a child from one of China’s many ethnic minorities, who is losing her native tongue because cultural practice limits her ability to express her ethnicity?

Ultimately, it will be other people who assist and educate these at-risk populations not technology. The vehicle of technology in the right hands may make a mobile device a huge blessing to struggling students in far corners of the globe. Nonetheless, it will be the “hands” that matter and not the technology.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mine is Just a Phone

Mobile computing is only on the periphery of my experience so far. I can either be described as hard-hearted or hard-headed about the “benefit” of mobile computing.

On the hard-hearted side:
  • An average of three times a day I am hissing through my teeth at some distracted driver with a phone in hand “texting”.
  • I find it appalling that people sit together at tables in restaurants and are consumed by spending that precious time communicating with someone else somewhere else.
  • I loathe the idea that my phone can be used to pinpoint my whereabouts on a map.
  • I dread the day that it is naturally expected that I answer an e-mail anytime, anywhere.
  • I hate tiny buttons that make me feel as if my fingers are even more fat and clumsy than they already really are.
  • I worry about the future where everyone is desensitized to the distraction of “multitasking” and the beauty of silent contemplation is lost.
  • I wonder if how whatever the realities of our power needs and diminishing natural resources will ultimately bring the house of cards down.

On the hard-headed side:
  • I am like a lady of another time stuck in my past. I refuse to see a phone as anything but a phone.
  • I am not convinced of the benefits of the little black box that can do "everything".
  • I don’t want to buy in to the hype, even when I see the “cool” things mobile computing can provide.
  • I don’t want to pay extra for the services and equipment.
  • I don’t like being manipulated by a marvelous marketing scheme.

The lists go on and intertwine back and forth. The end result is that I have the basic cell phone and use it to talk. I have managed to send a few pictures, but I don’t text message. I’ve never used a phone to access the internet or as a GPS. This isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Games of Today... For Me

Human beings enjoy games. From earliest times, games have served as means of transferring skills to youth. Even “playing pretend” seems like a fairly universal human trait. As long as one isn’t too stringent on the definition of “game”, there are games for every personality and temperament, and it is natural to find an affinity for some sort of game.

For whatever reason, I haven’t yet found a digital gaming environment that sparks my interest enough for long-term investment. My curiosity is piqued, and I like to observe, but I don’t want to spend hours developing a character in a digital game. I am sure I am not alone. Too many factors contribute to making a digital gaming experience enjoyable. Technical issues such as equipment, memory allocations, connection and band width play a part; environmental issues such as space, free time, and external distractions play a part; economic issues, such as subscription prices or even the price of electricity can play a part; physical ability such as vision and hand-eye coordination can play a part; and personality definitely plays a part.

Currently, I prefer games of peek-a-boo, hide-and-seek, and playing pretend with toy tools. My gaming interests are very “old school”, but I’d rather be helping my son figure out the physical world and building his problem solving skills here. Going off into an ether-world to solve artificial problems doesn’t make sense for me right now. There is more joy in giggles than thousands of points of experience (XP).

Friday, April 2, 2010

If I Was Queen of the World

After spending time in-world at Second Life, I am intrigued by the idea of making my own island. I could be queen of my own realm! I could be me, only a little taller, a little thinner and a little more exotic. (Wallace, 2010) Like Ussery’s (2010) students, I could build and sculpt my perfect place. I could develop a place for people to bring beauty and creativity. It could be a place of museums, salons, and gardens.

Ironically, as in the physical world, any “subjects” who happened into my happy little place would change it beyond my control. The minute someone besides myself joined the realm, operating on their own free will, they would bring with them their own positive qualities, beliefs, and prejudices (Wallace, 2010). My place of beauty and creativity would flex under the tension of not only my wants and needs, but those of anyone else participating. For my realm to be a community, I could no longer be queen. Whatever my design might have been would take on new, deeper meaning as my world populated, communities formed, and groups banded together to complete common goals. The realm I designed would ultimately have its own history and culture evolving over time as the participants imprinted their pattern on the fabric of the world.

The dynamics of the real versus the ideal and the actual versus the potential, as well as the juxtaposition of the individual versus the community are what pull people into virtual worlds and massively multi-player games. These spaces give us an opportunity to “play out” problems in an environment where failure (even unto death) is not final and experience adds up in a tangible (well, virtual) way. We can take the framework that the game creator designed and flex it into a culture and community. We can test our sense of ourselves, play on our strengths, and hopefully learn to mitigate our weaknesses in a “safe” environment. In a virtual world, we confront the good and bad in ourselves and others in a way that leaves us room to turn off and unplug when we’ve had enough.

In that sense, even in a virtual environment, no one is Queen of the World, but anyone can enjoy the game.

Expanding Educational Realities – Exploring Interactive and Immersive Learning Experiences. By Janyth Ussery. 2010.

Some of My Students Are Not Human! Avatar Interaction and Collaboration in Virtual Worlds. By Paul Wallace. 2010.